The Women’s Health Network in Bradford has been at the forefront of tackling the health inequalities women face for the past five years. It holds regular meetings, hosts talks, events, focus groups and workshops to influence service design and engage women from all communities.
‘Making a difference’
Bradford’s Women’s Health Network was set up in 2017. Funding was initially provided by the clinical commissioning group, but the council has now started jointly commissioning it.
The network was coordinated by local charity CNet Bradford until 2021, but is now run by Here 4 Bradford District and Craven Communities, a voluntary sector support consortium which has staff dedicated to working on the programme.
The network was launched with just under 50 members, but that has now grown to more than 230 and includes women in senior positions in the council and local NHS as well as representatives from the voluntary sector, many of whom work with seldom-reached women and members of the public.
Its aim is to identify issues that are important to local women and their families and use its influence to make a difference across the Bradford district. This can include having input into service design or raising awareness about issues through talks, focus groups and workshops.
The network meets at least six times a year where projects are discussed and actioned.
Network Citizens Engagement Officer Laila Ahmed said: “Sometimes our commissioners will ask us to get involved in a certain issue and at other times our members will propose ideas. It is a two-way process.
“The aim is always to work towards improving the health and wellbeing of women, their families and communities. But what I would say about this type of work is that it is so important to properly fund it – to have staff dedicated to working and coordinating it is really allowing us to make a difference. We’ve been very fortunate in Bradford to have had the resources, staffing, and champions from our CCG and council that have allowed us to do this.”
From cancer screening to the pandemic
Over the years the network has worked on a variety of projects. In 2019 a cancer screening event was held to raise awareness among the Pakistani and Bangladeshi community of the importance of attending breast, bowel and cervical screening appointments. It came after the local cancer alliance raised concerns about low levels of uptake among these groups.
An event was organised by the network at a community centre where leading local cancer professionals gave presentations and a network member shared her own experience of breast cancer, including the screening, diagnosis, treatment and recovery journey. Interpreters were available for the groups that required them.
Women were able to handle the bowel cancer screening kits and a lemon was used to form a fun, but practical demonstration on how to look out for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. There was also the opportunity to visit various health and cancer screening stalls as well as making bookings. A total of 47 women attended with ages ranging from 24 to 67 – over half made arrangements for screening or to visit their GP.
Network Chair Masira Hans, who works for Bradford Mind, one of the network members, says:
Our role was to act as trusted conduit. The NHS was struggling to reach these women, but by hosting an event like this we were able to bring the community and professionals together.
“There were a lot of myths. Women admitted they had ignored letters inviting them for screening as they thought they could be cut during the screening. Working with the cancer professionals we were able to clarify what screening is about and why it is important.”
Other projects that have been run included playing a key role in community communications during the pandemic, combatting fake news and promoting key vaccine and testing messages on social media and via its members. “The relationships we had established in the years before the pandemic really came to the fore during this period,” added Ms Hans.
‘We are excited about next steps’
The impact of the network has also been praised in an evaluation carried out by Dr Emma Craddock, from Birmingham City University. The report, published in late 2021, said the network “demonstrates the value of addressing women’s heath holistically utilising an asset-based approach”.
It went on to say the network “creates and sustains a bidirectional channel of communication between micro (ground) level communities and macro (institutional) level organisations”.
More recently the network has been focussing on raising awareness about the menopause. A podcast has been produced explaining how the menopause affects women, while the network has also hosted a series of menopause cafes, local community events where women have been able to share their experiences.
Ms Ahmed said: “Now we are being commissioned by both the council and NHS we are looking at issues more widely and holistically, rather than just focussing on health services as we have in the past. The move to integrate local government and the NHS is opening up new opportunities that we are very excited about.”
Laila Ahmed, Citizens Engagement Officer, Women’s Health Network, Here 4 Bradford District & Craven Communities: [email protected]
Link to evaluation: https://www.bcu.ac.uk/health-sciences/research/centre-for-social-care-health-and-related-research/research-projects/an-evaluation-of-the-womens-health-network-in-bradford